While “The Visit” inched M. Night Shyamalan toward a comeback, it was the critical and commercial success of “Split” that reenergized the often-polarizing director’s career. Buzz around “Split” exploded in 2016 due in part to its ending twist, which revealed Bruce Willis’ “Unbreakable” character David Dunn existed in the same universe as James McAvoy’s “Split” character Kevin. The twist made “Split” a surprise sequel to “Unbreakable” and paved the way toward trilogy-ender “Glass.” It turns out Shyamalan never told executives at Universal Studios about this twist.
“I go to the Universal Studios chairman, (the) marketing team, everyone’s in the theater. We pull down the lights and we play them ‘Split.’ They don’t know the ending that they’re watching. They didn’t even know I shot it, because I didn’t even send them the dallies of that (scene),” Shyamalan said on the ReelBlend podcast. “The lights go down. They watch the whole movie of ‘Split.’ Then this scene comes on, and they’re completely flummoxed. They look at me, and they’re like, ‘What are you saying? That’s a Disney movie!’ (Laughs) And I go, ‘It’s all good. We have the permission to do it!’ Can you imagine? You are the chairman of the studio, and the guy shows you that it’s a sequel to a movie from another studio?”
Shyamalan always knew that “Split” was going to be a surprise sequel to “Unbreakable,” but he hid the twist from the studio at every level of development. The director left out the scene when he turned in his shooting script to Universal executives, and he didn’t even shoot the scene until after the studio first started testing the movie without it.
“When I wrote that movie, I didn’t put the end scene on. I handed it to the studio without that end scene on. We shot it without that end scene on. We previewed it without that end scene on,” Shyamalan said. “And then the best part was… I said, ‘Let’s just go for it.’ Lemme call Bruce and say, ‘Hey dude, would you just come to Philly for, like, three hours and shoot this thing for me?’ And he was like, ‘Why, what?’ And I was like, ‘Well, I did this movie, and it’s kind of in the “Unbreakable” world. I don’t know if we’ll ever shoot a sequel. Do you just want to just come for three hours, bro?’ And he was like, ‘Yeah, yeah. I’ll come.’”
“Split” turned into one of Shyamalan’s most profitable films to date, grossing $278 million worldwide on a reported $9 million budget. Shyamalan’s latest directorial effort, “Old,” is now playing in theaters nationwide.